We hear Violet’s (Olivia Munn) inner voice talking to her, critiquing her, in the very first scene; calling her a pig because she eats a sno-ball for breakfast. That voice stays with her as she jumps in her car, racing to get to work as a production head at a film company lead by a demanding, misogynistic boss (Dennis Boutsikaris). This angry, condescending voice inside her head competes with another voice, one which is eloquently scrawled across the screen as we watch Violet proceed with her daily tasks.
Violet is her own worst enemy as she encounters her colleagues, subordinates, family members, and even friends. On the outside, she is a beautiful, confident, and a successful woman, but just below the surface, using this inner voice and flashing back in time to a younger Violet, we learn so much more about the emotional trauma and constant undermining of the development of her psyche.
Violet finds herself in a rut, spinning her wheels in her career as well as her love life. Temporarily living with Red (Luke Bracey), a childhood friend and now successful filmmaker while her home is completing renovations, Violet longs to be caught by a safety net, but just doesn’t know how to reach out and ask for help.
Within all of us, we have the same voices; one which is constantly narrating our situations and the other which pops up when we are stressed. This is our inner critic. It’s the one that can shame us, make us feel incompetent, and block us in our attempts to reach for things outside of our comfort zone. Violet’s inner critic voice (Justin Thoreau) or “The Committee” as she calls it, undermines her every move and we are privy to this voice…every gut-wrenching word. It warns her that she will be labeled a bitch if she says what she actually thinks at work, or she’s not good enough to get a different job. She’s cloaked in a shield of negative armor and all the while her mind is screaming for what she really wants or what she really feels. “I feel like I don’t know who I am anymore” or begging for those who could help not to leave, but verbalizing something far different because “The Committee” has won this battle.
It isn’t until she shares with a good friend that she has these competing voices in her head that she begins to take charge of her life. This negative armor is peeled away to reveal, as she says, and a new raw skin. Her life begins to change, but it’s not without consequence and not without her own internal battles continuing in a decrescendo.
“Violet” is many things — a smart psychological drama using bold filmmaking choices — but more than anything, it’s a representation of us all. Each and everyone of us deals with our own thoughts as well as that inner critic voice which can save us from taking unnecessary potentially harmful risks, but too often, that voice overpowers rational thought and deters us from growing and succeeding in life. Who hasn’t been to a work party and sized up everyone around, comparing and feeling inadequate? How many of us settled for a job or were afraid to jump to the next level because we didn’t think we could do it? Perhaps “The Committee” is stronger in some than in others, but we all have it and this is what connects us emotionally with Violet as she attempts to balance her life.
Just like Violet’s secret cognitive battle, her outside world has two antagonistic extremes as well. Red wants nothing more than to be her rock and Tom, her boss, wants nothing more than to cut her at the core. A work meeting with a client depicts one of the most angering and heartbreaking scenes as Violet endures Tom’s harassment with no escape route. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s Lila (Erica Ash), Violet’s good friend who provides the pivotal words which change Violet’s world. She can begin to see life and those who undermine it more clearly. Bateman skillfully provides Violet with several opportunities to explore her past and her present and how she can change her future. And Bateman, a first-time feature screenwriter and director, shows us that she’s a powerhouse in storytelling, daring to push the envelope.
Munn has the difficult task of creating Violet, a flawed woman filled with anger, resentment, and fear who on the outside looks strong and confident and she does so with perfection. In many ways, Munn creates three different characters in one with absolute authenticity and nuanced skill. To do this, writer and director Justine Bateman takes her own chances which pay off. She finds a way to use emotionally loaded scenarios and sub stories all of which have their own climactic arc, as well as interjecting visual and/or auditory bombardment to tell this tale. When Violet’s inner critic becomes overwhelming, the screen bleeds into a red hue and the music becomes uncomfortable. Additionally, Violet’s internal voice is accentuated with written words covering the screen and the dark resonant voice that is the inner critic haunts and angers us. It’s literally and figuratively a complete picture.
“Violet” is a bold and relatable story of one woman, a woman who represents us all in varying gradations, on an evocative journey of life and finding harmony. With a strong cast and an exceptional lead, “Violet” is a searing exploration into the human psyche that has a rippling real life effect.